Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Cab protest backfires

Despite protests by taxi drivers who want to ban app-based taxi companies, Uber and Careem continue to do a brisk business, reports Ahmed Morsy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Taxi drivers who staged protests last week against app-based taxi companies became so desperate that they set a trap for the drivers of the companies so that a traffic policeman could check their papers.

Last weekend, taxi drivers staged a protest in front of the headquarters of the General Traffic Department to press their demands to shut down app-based taxi companies Uber and Careem. The companies, they say, are taking away their business.

During the protest, taxi drivers ambushed five drivers belonging to Uber and Careem by requesting a fake ride. The taxi drivers then took the app-based drivers to a traffic policeman so that their papers could be checked. None of the drivers were arrested.

“We were forced to set a trap because we staged protests that had no effect so we wanted the police to check their licences and question the legality of their services,” Sayed Saleh, a taxi driver, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Another driver, Mustafa Zenhom, 50, said they were angry because app-based taxi companies like Careem and Uber have opened a backdoor for owners of private cars to go around the legal boundaries of the business and operate as taxis without paying taxes or experience the hassle and inspections licenced taxis go through.

“It’s unfair,” Zenhom said. “It costs us about LE40,000 for a taxi licence plate, in addition to paying the installments of the loan that we bought the cars with.” He added that taxi drivers also pay up to LE3,500 annually in taxes. Zenhom said the arrival of Uber and Careem have badly affected taxi drivers, claiming they have claimed the majority of their passengers.

The ambush incident was captured on video and posted on social media platforms. But, if anything, the stunt had the reverse effect, opposite to what the taxi drivers had hoped for. Most social media users were instead sympathetic towards the Uber and Careem drivers.

Citing reasons behind their preference for using online taxi companies, some social media users said taxi drivers constantly refuse to take passengers to their destinations, refuse to use the metre to determine the correct amount of payment, and rarely turn on the air conditioner in summer. They said they also prefer the new taxi companies because their cars are cleaner.

Uber is a San Francisco-based company that arrived in Cairo and Giza in late 2014 and began operations in Alexandria a year later. The number of drivers who have joined the service has grown by 73 times in one year, making Cairo the fastest-growing city for the company. Though it started off using only credit cards, Uber now offers a cash option in Cairo.

Uber is currently available in more than 67 countries and 300 cities worldwide and has been valued at as much as $50 billion. Careem is a Dubai-based company that started operating in Egypt in late 2014 and has grown from just five cars on the first day to thousands now roaming the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Offering the two-payment option, Careem is trying to dominate Middle East markets and in only three years has expanded its operations to 20 countries.

Both companies use GPS to connect customers to drivers and both are widely used by Egyptians.

“Since taxi drivers started to stage protests against us, customer awareness about the app-based taxi companies has increased,” Ahmed Aref, a 33-year-old Uber driver told the Weekly. “A lot of people who knew nothing about us now know us and, consequently, our workload has increased, thanks to the taxi drivers,” he said.

“I think passengers prefer us because we care about their safety and comfort and because there is a method by which the passenger can rate the driver following a ride. In addition, passengers feel better while paying for Uber and Careem because the fare is determined before he gets in the car,” Aref added.

Taxi passengers in Egypt have been complaining for years about over-priced fares in the absence of — or with rigged — taxi metres. Female passengers also worry about sexual harassment by drivers.

At a press conference hosted by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights at the Press Syndicate on Wednesday 10 February, taxi drivers said that foreign companies are creating “strife between Egyptian drivers and passengers”. The representatives of taxi drivers who attended the conference also called on President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to ban the services.

At the conference, the taxi drivers launched a campaign dubbed “We’re the real taxi, not the outsiders”. The drivers have called on the San Francisco-based Uber and Dubai-based Careem to end their operations in Egypt.

Uber Cairo’s Operation Manager Abdel-Latif Waked, in an interview with Ahram Online, said that they are not against taxi drivers and acknowledged that they might be upset about some aspects of Uber’s operations. “Cairo has about 20 million people. The market is large so it is possible to accommodate taxi drivers like Uber and other competitors,” Waked said.

Waked said they are currently trying to encourage taxi drivers to join the “Uber platform”, adding that the service is open to negotiations with taxi drivers to include them in the system.

Waked emphasised that Uber is licenced as a technology company in all the countries it operates in and stressed that they pay taxes and carry commercial registers. He added that the company’s partners — limousine and tourism companies — actually act as offices for anyone who wants to join Uber as a driver and said the outlets are licenced and have their own commercial registers.

Taxi drivers are expected to take legal action against Uber and Careem. The lawsuit, which is likely to be filed shortly by rights lawyer Khaled Ali, will be the first time private car services have been slapped with a lawsuit by taxi drivers since their launch in the Middle East.

Uber is also facing trouble in the US and elsewhere, including a class-action lawsuit in California by taxi drivers. French taxi drivers have escalated their anti-Uber protests, while the country’s highest court has upheld a ban on Uber’s low-cost services.

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